The role of production designer seems to be one of the least understood roles in filmmaking. Production Designers are in charge of the art department involved in film production. They work closely with the Director in order to establish the overall ‘look’ of the film. The production design process starts in the early stages of production. The designers begin by reading the screenplay and then creating design sketches that detail the atmosphere, lighting, composition, colour and texture of the set or location. They then are responsible for overseeing the whole process of creating the sets and adapting the locations to suit the film.
Below is an interview with the production designer Alex McDowell, who describes the role of a production designer.
Production designers are in charge of planning and monitoring the design budget, providing scale drawings or models for studio or theatre sets, producing design ideas for costumes, wigs, props, special effects, make-up and graphics. They identify and assess potential studios and locations, sourcing appropriate materials and researching effects and presenting ideas to others involved in the production, such as actors and camera operators. They research, estimate and prepare property lists. They hire and manage an art department team or teams (depending on the size of the production) and instruct the set construction company, scenic artists and special effects specialists, and they monitor their work. They also liaise with the costume designer and the director of photography, as well as the props, lighting and sound directors. They attend progress meetings, rehearsals and filming to advise on visual presentation.
Below is a link to an audio interview with the production designer J. Michael Riva (Iron Man, Django Unchained) and it begins with a short introduction to the role of production design.
The article is titled ‘A Movie’s Look, From Toilet To Villain’s Lair’
In order to identify the role of the production designer, it will be necessary to investigate how it began in order to discover how the methods and processes may have developed.
‘The credit Production Designer has been used in various ways. To recognize a job that goes beyond the responsibilities of art direction by also directing the work of the Costume Designer, the Property Master, the Makeup Artist and the Hair Stylist.’ (p150, Preston, 1994).
Here is another link to various production designers talking about what their job entails.
Below are a few of my favourite articles on production design.
The wonderfully bright and quirky design of Pushing Daises
The design of Brazil
The use and re-use of locations